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Bandera - to develop or not, Part 5

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

(Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series of articles about attempts to develop a coherent development plan designed to attract new businesses to the city and county of Bandera.)

To jumpstart the local economy, a quartet of businessmen banded together six years ago to establish what is now known as the Bandera County Economic Development Corporation. Prime mover of this partnership, Gary Johnston, has been joined by Chairman Sully Woodland and principles, Roy Thompson, Johnny Boyle, Gary Johnston and Don Giles. Precinct 1 Commissioner Bob Grimes joined the group after his election.
Grimes recently secured a first step for offering tax abatements to industries opening for business in unincorporated parts of Bandera County.
In September, the group sponsored a four-hour planning workshop on economic development, titled "The Bandera County Economic Development Partnership."
Jeremy Zaborowski, with the Lower Colorado River Authority, acted as facilitator while Grimes coordinated the workshop, which was provided gratis by the LCRA.
EDC = tourism?
One important aspect of the four-hour workshop concerned tourism. Zaborowski asked, "Should an EDC (economic development corporation) have a tourism component?"
As Genie Strickland noted, "We already have strong tourism programs and base so we don't want to lose that focus. A lot of people in the county depend on tourism and we don't want to ruin it." She advocated that the BC-EDC work in concert with tourism-based industries.
As an event coordinator, Strickland owns a business, Growth Resources that, among other enterprises, organizes and promotes events locally and in surrounding counties.
In Bandera County, she produces the Wild Hog Explosion for the Bandera County Public Library, RiverFest and Mayhem on the Medina, for the Bandera Business Association; and Celebrate Bandera, for the Bandera Community Foundation. Strickland also oversees the installation of Christmas lights within the municipality, and additionally serves on the Bandera County Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors.
What about us?
While acknowledging Bandera's brand as the Cowboy Capital of the World, realtor Karen Ripley said, "The Lakehills' population is centered around Medina Lake. The emphasis on western doesn't help us. We would like more focus on water activities component for tourists. This area is part of Bandera County, too."
She asked that more water-oriented events be created. "I'd like to see a 'Celebrate Lakehills.' We could have speed boat races, ski jumps, pirate events. The lake is a huge asset to the county," Ripley continued.
She also advocated that all aspects and cultures of the county related to tourism be explored and highlighted - not only western aspects, but also water-related activities, exotic ranches, apples in Medina and the local state natural areas, among others. "We need to broaden our scope and speak about other elements," Ripley said.
Patricia Moore, executive director of the Bandera County Convention and Visitors Bureau, agreed, saying, "If a group in Lakehills wants to get started, we'll support you and be more inclusive." She added that historically the CVB has promoted the Medina Lake Cajun Festival.
Ripley said, "This will have to be loosely organized because one in every three residents at the lake doesn't live there full time. But we want to same level of help creating the ones in Bandera."
Zaborowski noted that tourism creation and promotion is not necessarily a part of an EDC.
'We need help'
Regarding aspects of tourism retention and attraction, Toni Kunz, a member of the City of Bandera Economic Development Corporation, said that current residents alone cannot support local businesses.
Agreeing, Grimes noted, "To a degree then, tourism sustains the community. If we promote tourism, do (current) infrastructures support that part of economic development."
Referencing Lakehills proximity to San Antonio, Thompson noted, "There was a lot of money in San Antonio and they could help out if asked." He also advocated developing a political relationship with state representatives.
Hooter McMullan of McMullan Insurance suggested that "outside people" be approached to invest in Bandera County.
However, Zaborowski cautioned, "You need to build relationships with individuals. If you're looking for government buy-ins, agreements must be crafted carefully."
One thing everyone agreed on was no one locally would "buy-in" to a partnership with Bexar County.
Funding -
oh, that word!
The conversation then veered into the real nitty-gritty - funding for what apparently would be a development director for the city and county.
Giles felt that all the stakeholders must dedicate resources to get a viable economic development group off the ground. "We'll need dedicated staff to accomplish what we've been talking about."
"You'll also need a timeline and realistic expectations going into this," Zaborowski said. As an example, he said it took six years to construct an Amazon distribution center along the Interstate-35 corridor.
"We need to define the types of businesses and industries we want to attract to this area," Woodland said. "Determining what types of businesses fit is the function of an economic development organization."
Obstacles a plenty
Regarding obstacles to a regional EDC, Bruce Hanks, executive director of the Arthur Nagel Community Clinic noted the necessity of "hiring management to get the job done on a dedicated timeline because, if you don't, people will drift."
As Grimes noted, "The money must come from some place." He envisioned a partnership with different levels of government and different levels of the community.
Referencing the county block grants, Grimes said, "We must have something credible to take to the city and commissioners court." Essentially, he advocated asking those taxing entities to "give us money to hire people to do it."
Anticipating opposition to a regional EDC, Woodland said, "There are people in the city and county who don't want any changes."
Ripley listed a litany of possible obstacles to economic development that included "power centers" focusing on self-interest, impacts on other budgets, no dedicated staff or funding, no credible organizational structure, limited local experience and knowledge and transportation obstacles, as well as the aforementioned, opposition to change.
Another perceived obstacle to economic development was the cultural diversity within the county's many small communities.